Ramsey Goolsby lassos Tennessee Junior High all-around title
Story and Photos by KEN BECK
It’s less than an hour from sundown on a summer day that saw the mercury climb to 100 degrees. At the Horseshoe, a farm about 10 miles out of Smithville, teenager Ramsey Goolsby and his dad, Tim, are unloading Chance and Champ from the horse trailer.
On the far side of the barn, a couple of metal corrals contain a dozen or more steers, while horses and horsemen kick up the sand from the floor of a lighted outdoor arena. A chute holds four or five of the horned critters. Everyone here knows it’s time for some serious roping practice.
“There are a lot of variables in roping: It’s a lotta luck,” said Ramsey, 14, a Watertown High School freshman. “I like to practice on live cattle. It helps me get a better feel rather than a fake dummy that has no emotions and is not going to kick or run.”
If you encountered this 5-foot-9-inch, 135-pound, brown-eyed and brown-haired youngster with friends at the mall or downing a soft drink at the Snow White, you’d probably never guess him to be Tennessee Junior High All-Around Cowboy. The modest, good-looking athlete would never tell you either. He wears a title that doesn’t come easy. The price is sweat, blood and more sweat.
Two nights a week from March through late fall, Ramsey, his dad, the horses and his ropes hit the asphalt trail to this arena where from two to five hours at a time, he practices roping and tying ornery steers.
He is not alone at his craft. Two high school boys, Clark Adcock and Cody Hattaway, are roping and bulldogging. And Ramsey also works with his partner, Shara Adcock, 14, at team roping. As the header, Shara aims for the steer’s head, while Ramsey, as heeler, tries to lasso the steer’s back legs.
“I’ve been wanting to rodeo since I was born,” said Ramsey. “I remember at two and three, sitting on the couch arm and watching bull riding on TV and wanting to be a bull rider. I started riding calves when I was six and moved up to steers at 11 or 12.
“Then my parents helped me buy a team roping horse, and from there on I began roping. It looked fun and was not as painful as riding bulls, and I was a whole lot better at it than riding bulls.”
The young cowboy won the Wrangler Junior High top cowboy title at the University of Tennessee in Martin in May competing in five events: chute dogging, goat tying, tie-down (calf) roping, team roping and ribbon roping. He won three of the five and scored 18 points higher than the nearest competitor. A few weeks later, Ramsey was named Rookie of the Year by the Tennessee Junior Rodeo Association.
As for his forte as a roper, the skill sharpens after hundreds of hours in the saddle and involves almost mental telepathy with horse and roping partner. (He and Shara perform as a duo in ribbon roping and team roping.)
“It takes a lot of practice, a lot of hours getting a lot of calves and steers roped. You have to have a really good mindset. For me I want to go into it not wanting to be the fastest, but you have to go into it planning you’re gonna catch and gonna win,” said Ramsey, knowing the faster roper isn’t always the victor, as the time clock doesn’t stop until the rambunctious target has been stilled with three of its legs tied just right.
“I used to play football, but it got in the way of practicing rodeo. I had to quit something that was not as important. That was football,” Ramsey said, who still gets a heavy dose of teamwork.
He and Shara have been team roping for two years, ever since Shara’s former partner moved up to the high school level. It’s not common to see boy and a girl tandem in team roping. This pair is one of the best at their level in the Volunteer State.
Shara, a freshman at DeKalb County High School, performs plenty of chores in the house and on the family farm where the Adcocks’ raise cattle, horses, goats and hay. She began competing in rodeo at the age of eight as her parents had been around the sport most of their lives. She finished second in the State at the junior high finals and won the breakaway roping title. As for her roping partner she said, “I just look for somebody I can depend on to do their best, just like I do my best. I’ve not had many partners, but Ramsey is a good one.
“It is just fun to get out there and rope. Rodeo is pretty much all I do. We practice through the week and rodeo through the weekends,” said Shara, whose brother, Clark, 18, won a rodeo scholarship to UTMartin.
In team roping, a calf weighing up to 250 pounds is released from the chute. The header (the cowboy who ropes the head) rides out on the left side of the steer and throws his rope around the head and tries to turn the steer left, so that the heeler can turn left directly behind the steer and throw his rope and snare both back legs. If both ropes catch, the header and heeler have to face each other on their horses and their ropes have to be pulled tight. The fastest team wins. (An excellent time for junior high ropers is seven to 15 seconds.)
The calf roping or tie-down event involves a single roper, but the cowboy also has to jump off his horse, throw the calf to the ground and tie the feet with two wraps and a hooey. (A good time for junior cowboys is 10 to 15 seconds.)
“In calf roping, basically, there are three mindsets: mine, my horse and my calf. The only thing in calf roping is to be yourself. If you mess up, you have nobody else to blame it on but yourself. Calf roping is more independent. You just have to tie it the quickest,” said Ramsey. “I enjoy the tie-down roping for calves. I like it more because it puts more pressure on myself to do good.”
For team roping, the cowboys and cowgirls need a rope, roping glove—to keep from burning the hand—spurs and a saddle. Calf roping requires two ropes: a long one to snare the calf and a short one, called the piggin’ string, with which to tie the calf’s legs. The latter,
a five-to-six-feet long rope, is the one the cowboys carry in their mouths.
Of course, the most important factor in rodeo for a cowboy is his horse. “The horse is about 90 percent of it to me. The horse is just about everything,” Ramsey said. “You have to have a good horse to get anywhere in rodeo. You can be the best roper in the world and have a bad horse and not get anywhere.”
In roping events the variables include the horse’s mood, the weather, the steer you draw and just plain old luck. “The main one is your horse. If he is fresh and feeling too good, he might want to run too hard, or if he is too tired, he might not run enough. Weather is also important. If it’s real muddy, it’s hard for horses to run, or if it’s real hot or muggy, it makes your rope real sticky and hard to make a clean throw,” said the young cowboy.
While a teen cowboy’s most essential piece of equipment at a rodeo is his horse, nothing is more important than the support team: mom and dad. For the parents allowing their child to participate in rodeo is a huge time commitment, not to mention expensive and nerve wracking.
“It’s very hectic because I’m the one who has to make sure all the entry fees are sent in,” said Ramsey’s mother, Angela. “I’m the scorekeeper and the videographer, but Tim (Ramsey’s father) does most of the work. He is the horse handler and is constantly having to swap out horses for Ramsey.”
As for fears of her youngster being injured, she said, “I do worry about him, but he’s doing something that he loves to do, and if you tell a kid ‘Well, you can’t do this’ or ‘You can’t do that’ – Can’t has never done anything for any of us. He’s doing something he enjoys and loves.
“With Ramsey, he has a dream. That dream is to be a professional cowboy. If you don’t have a dream, then really what do you have when you grow up in life? We let him live his dream and have told him we would always support him,” Angela said.
“I tell a lot of people we’re on the road almost every weekend, if not every other weekend, but we really have a lot of family time, and we discuss issues. . . . We really get more quality time together than I think most families do. We eat, sleep and pray together.”
The junior high rodeo season runs March through November, and the rodeo mom estimates that she, Tim and Ramsey are on the road about 18 weekends as Ramsey competes in two rodeos per weekend. The events are often held in West Tennessee but can also take them to Alabama or Kentucky. Fuel, food and fees can drain a rodeo family’s bank account.
“Rodeo is probably the most expensive sport,” said Angela. “You hear a lot of parents complain about uniforms. They go maybe to the next county for a game. We go to the next state a lot of times. We just went to Murray, Ky., last weekend, and we spent $150 just in fuel.
“Ramsey competes in so many events, but it can run anywhere from $100 to $300 at each rodeo. So you see why we work. Our bill last year going to New Mexico (for the National Junior High Finals) was $750, and it cost $1,200 this year. But Ramsey has to do his part to help with expenses as well. He hauled hay and did odd jobs to help pay the way, and he had a business sponsor as well as some financial support from family and friends. It’s very hard to qualify and go and be there and experience it, but it is really special.”
Held in late June and early July in Gallup, N.M., the National Junior High Finals draws the top 900 cowboys and cowgirls in grades six through eight. It’s 1,400 miles one way and a 25-hour trip for the Goolsby clan.
The trio makes the trip with their truck, trailer and three horses. The trailer holds their sleeping quarters, a bath and shower combo and a sink. For meals, they grill, fix sandwiches or eat out.
Once in Gallup, the young cowboys and their families camp in sections marked for each state's team members. “All the people are friendly, but it is still a competition. When you go to the rodeo it is serious. They hold two rodeos a day, one in the morning and another at 6 o’clock. With Ramsey being a five-event qualifier, he will be rodeoing twice a day,” said Angela.
“The rodeo is held in Red Rock Canyon where they have all 50 state flags drilled into the rock. People are rattling cowbells and blowing horns when a team member from their state comes up to compete. It gets real loud. The bleachers are concrete, and the seating areas are chalked off and decorated for each state,” said the mom, who is proud that her son has kept on the honor roll most of the time he has been rodeoing.
“I have to keep my grades good to go to rodeo,” says Ramsey, as he shares that the family has an A-B-C-D system. “If I get a D, we’re definitely not going to a rodeo. If I get a C, I can’t go to a rodeo. If I get a B, I better not go but we could, and if I get an A, we’re absolutely going to a rodeo.”
Ramsey’s father, Tim, has been a certified blacksmith since he was 22. He operates his own blacksmith shop in the boonies outside of Watertown. He labors in 100-degree-plus heat in the summer as he hammers on the feet of half-ton creatures.
Why does he sacrifice time and money to help his son pursue the rodeo life? “So he don’t have to work like me every day,” answered Tim. “The money and stuff is out there to do it, and he’s got the talent to do it.
“We’re lucky with my job. I don’t have to worry about taking off vacation time. It just kills me when I get back,” he said laughing, even though he knows the horses will be lined up and waiting when he returns from events like the week-long national Junior High Finals.
“The talent is there. College is there. So we think maybe we are gradually paying for college as we go. It keeps him out of trouble and into good stuff. You won’t believe how good the kids are out there (in the sport of rodeo).
“Ramsey makes it so hard on himself when he does not do as good as he thinks he should do. Some parents push, we don’t have to do that. He pushes himself. We just try to make it available,” Tim said.
“Rodeo is an addicting sport. It’s like anything else. If somebody does something they like, they tend to do it well. Angela and I didn’t have the opportunity when we were younger. There are so many more opportunities now and so much further that they can go. We took him to the National Finals Rodeo when he was 10, and he saw what the pros could do, and that was probably a mistake. But he saw where he could go, and that is what he is after. He wants to be at the big show one of these days.”
This Fall Ramsey matriculates to high school rodeo where he plans to concentrate on bulldogging, tie-down roping and team roping. He’s lassoed his hopes for the future on a dirty, dangerous business, but he realizes what he’s up against.
“My dream in rodeo is to turn professional and compete all over the country. I’d like to get a rodeo scholarship to UT-Martin and go to the college national finals,” said the teenager who’s just starting to turn into a man – a man who knows how to ride and how to rope – a cowboy.
Junior High Division of the National High School Rodeo Association
More than 2,500 students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades in 47 states participate in junior high rodeo. The cowboys and cowgirls compete in a variety of events, including barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying, breakaway roping, tie-down roping, chute dogging, team roping, ribbon roping and junior bull riding. Each summer, the “Best of the Best” from each state and province qualify for the National Junior High Finals Rodeo. Approximately 900 competitors vie for thousands of dollars in scholarships and prizes. Since the first Junior High Finals was held in 2005, Gallup, N.M., has served as the host site. Two months ago, Ramsey Goolsby finished in the Top 50 out of 907 young cowboys competing at the junior high finals. He finished eighth in smallbore rifle shooting, 32nd in chute dogging, 37th in goat tying and 47th in calf roping. Most events had 150 to 180 contestants.
Say howdy to Ramsey Goolsby, Tennessee Junior High All-Around Cowboy
The numbers: Age: 14
Height: 5-foot-9 Weight: 135 pounds
School: A freshman at Watertown High School
Beverage: Mountain Dew
Restaurant: Cracker Barrel or Demos
TV show: Swamp People
Singer: Chris LeDoux
Movie star: Robert Duvall
Book: Where the Red Fern Grows
Sport to watch on TV: Rodeo and football
Pro rodeo cowboy: Cody Ohl
School subject: Science
Church: Fall Creek Baptist Church
Hobbies: Hunting deer and turkey, playing guitar
His ring tone: “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” by Willie Nelson